Have you ever asked yourself …
Why do pines have both big and teeny, tiny cones?
The answer lies in the basic biology of pine tree reproduction. Every conifer tree species produces male and female cones (usually both on the same tree).
The male cones start out small and stay small, usually going pretty much unnoticed by the unobservant public. These diminutive male cones fall off the tree soon after they do their job in pollination and will never really open up into what we often consider a “real” decorative cone.
Meanwhile, the female cones grow ever larger and larger — maturing to their full size in a matter of months to several years, depending on the species.
Why do ponderosas smell so darn good?
Ever catch a mysterious whiff of baking cookies as you stroll through the woods? No, you’re not out of your gourd. You’re probably just passing near an old stand of ponderosas, or their cousins, the Jeffrey pines.
These trees perform a fascinating trick as they age. When a ponderosa or Jeffrey reaches around 110 years old (a mere teenager), their bark changes color from black to yellow-tinted and they start producing a special chemical in their sap that emits an absolutely delicious aroma when warmed by the sun.
So look for these older “yellow-bellied” trees, stick your nose into a deep crevice in their bark and take a good, deep sniff … ahhhhh.
Now go home to satisfy your sudden craving for some warm cookies and cold milk.
Are sugar pines really all that sweet?
Actually, yes. The sugar pine exudes a sweet, gummy sap that hardens up into rock-candy-like shapes just ripe for the picking.
The Native Americans prized this sugary sap as a delicious sweet treat. The “sweet” in the sap comes from a sugar alcohol named pinitol which is under investigation by modern medicine for possible insulin-sensitizing and muscle-building properties.
Don’t just decide to go out gathering pine sap though, unless you are prepared to get covered in sticky goo.
And remember, sap serves as part of the tree’s immune system against pests such as the bark beetle and gathering it can put the tree at risk.
So, get out there on the trail and enjoy a new view (and smell) of our old friends, the pines.